Monday, August 3, 2015

off the deep end

First, it's time to put on your voting hats.  UVA finished its most successful season ever, with six ACC titles (most in the league) and three national titles (also far most in the league) and the Capital One Cup in men's sports.  Virginia athletes competed in the U.S. Open, the FIFA Women's World Cup, the FINA world championships.  They brought home individual national championships and individual ACC championships to go along with the team ones.  They rewrote the school record book.  They won trophies for being the top athlete in the country, the top scholar in the conference, the top tournament performer, there were multiple ACC Freshmen of the Year, there were more all-Americans than you can count on your hands.

Now all you have to do is decide the Cavalier of the Year.  It's the strongest field I can think of.  You get one vote.  Use it wisely.  To help you with that, here's the list of candidates, with links to their nomination profiles:

Eric Bird
Quin Blanding
Morgan Brian
Malcolm Brogdon
Denny McCarthy
Josh Sborz
Ryan Shane
Leah Smith
Nick Sulzer
Courtney Swan
Tara Vittese
Jordan Young

Voting lasts for two weeks.  Enjoy.

*******************************************************

Back to the music.  It's August, and that means football preseason.  In the past that's meant full-blown ACC previews, but this year I'm backing off.  Much of that work will still be done behind the scenes so I can still put out an abbreviated preview.  August will still be pretty much football preview month, though, just, differently.

Today we're gonna start with the roster turnover.  Not the graduating seniors or the incoming freshmen - we're talking attrition and transfers.  And then I'll digress into a bit of a recruiting diatribe because it's such an easy target.

Anyway.  Best I can tell, the list of non-senior losses looks like this:

Greyson Lambert
David Watford
Eli Harold
Max Valles
Darius Lee
George Adeosun
Mario Nixon
Dominique Terrell
Jamil Kamara
Michael Biesemier
Jordan Jackson
Caanan Brown

The last three - all front-seven defensive players - would've been redshirt freshmen and simply don't appear on the roster; there is no Googlable article on their departure nor any mention on the official site.  Would any have played a major role this year?  Rather unlikely.  It's basically three lost lottery tickets and a year each of developmental depth.

That's a ton of attrition, though.  13 players, two of which left early for the league.  Also two quarterbacks, which is not helpful.  Two names that were once-promising receiver talent and never lived up to the hype.  A couple medical scholarships.  It's a combination of factors, but successful programs do not see that much attrition.  If there's a coaching transition this winter, UVA could see that kind of attrition again.

To the staff's credit, though, they were very, very active on the transfer market, plugging quite a few holes with veterans.  Again, this is not that healthy.  Football is not basketball; it's very, very rare to find an Anthony Gill on the transfer market.  Successful programs generally don't see that much in-and-out in from transfers.  It's mostly guys who didn't pan out at their first choices.  Nevertheless, under the circumstances it's remarkable work by the staff.  Just about everyone should play a visible role, and a very important one.  UVA's free-agent acquisitions, alphabetically:

-- QB Connor Brewer.  Really intriguing pickup here.  And badly needed, too, after losing Greyson Lambert.  Brewer was a highly-coveted four-star recruit who originally picked Texas.  Big-time stuff.  After one redshirt year, his OC left and the Longhorns recruited over him, and he used a year of eligibility to transfer close to home to Arizona.  It was kind of a poor choice, career-wise - Brewer isn't a runner, but he transferred right into the Rich Rodriguez spread, where he naturally spent two years on the bench.  Having graduated from Arizona, he's eligible to play right now with two seasons left on his clock.  UVA was looking at having three quarterbacks and Matt Johns being the only one with any experience.  Johns enters camp as the starter, and Brewer really doesn't have any game experience to speak of either, but at the very worst he can enter a three-way competition for the backup job.  That itself is pretty crucial.

-- TE Charlie Hopkins.  Hopkins graduated from Stanford and is eligible right away for one season.  Tight end was looking just as desperate as quarterback, and Hopkins, though lightly-used as a receiver, does have a fair amount of game time under his belt.  The TE situation was as follows: one little-used converted DE, one never-used converted QB, and three freshmen (one redshirt.)  Hopkins should step right in and be a heavy contributor.

-- RB Albert Reid.  Thanks to an injury waiver and a degree in hand from Maryland, Reid is immediately eligible as well for two seasons.  Taquan Mizzell is the heir apparent at RB, but he still has a metric ton to prove, and other than him there's, again, precious little experience.  Reid has a solid resume from his time in College Park and really upgrades the competition.

-- WR T.J. Thorpe.  A really intriguing player.  Wide receiver really wasn't in need of much of a boost (that changed somewhat with Doni Dowling likely out for a while, but Thorpe was brought in before that happened) but even so, Thorpe has exciting possibilities.  He's instantly the fastest guy on the team; his lightning-quick feet set kick return records as a freshman at North Carolina, but his career has been hampered by injury and he never really got far off the ground as a regular WR.  This is definitely a boom-or-bust acquisition.  It's not hard to believe Thorpe could go for 1,000 yards and just light up ACC defenses.  He has that potential.  He could also break his foot again or something.  It'd be a huge shame, but at least, if that happens, UVA has the depth to absorb the loss.  If one of these other guys turns out to be a dud, the position can't really handle the disappointment.  With Thorpe, there's nothing but upside.

Those depth chart issues are the source of a lot of London angst.  UVA is overloaded in some places and badly undermanned in others.  His backers like to argue it's just a lot of bad luck.  The incoming 2016 recruiting class says otherwise.  A quick count of the 20 players so far:

-- 1 quarterback.  Fine.  Take one every year, I'll never complain.
-- 1 running back.  Also fine, as none graduate this year.
-- 0 fullbacks.  Not helpful for a coaching staff claiming to want to establish a power running game.
-- 2 tight ends.  Fine.  Two graduate this year, the position will at least have bodies if not much experience.
-- 3 OL.  It was four, but one dude was basically placeholding in case he didn't get other offers.  Replace him and I'm OK with the numbers.  They'll need four more again next year, and four the year after that, and maybe the year after that too, but chances are a non-crazy coaching staff will be making those decisions.
-- 0 defensive tackles.  Unhelpful.
-- 1 defensive end.
-- 1 linebacker.  Normally not enough of either, but the staff went apeshit last year, so piling up at these positions would be wasteful.  They need to spread out the huge glob they created, though.

This amount of players does not remotely fill out a team.  Good thing, then, that the staff has chosen to pile on eleven WR/DB types!

There's a bit of a necessity at safety.  Cornerback technically needs two starters but in real life needs three, so you can pile up a bit there.  A bit.  Then again I also count six players likely slated for wide receiver.  At least you can't say these guys are afraid of competition.

When Tom O'Brien was brought in, word was that he immediately convinced Mike London the O-line needed more bodies, and recruited some.  When he left, it was whispered he ended up not doing much.  I wonder if the first impression wasn't correct and maybe he was providing some adult supervision after all.  The 20-man recruiting class currently has 11 WR/DBs and 9 of everything else.  That is completely insane.  I can't tell whether London's philosophy is to fill the team with athletes or just if he sees a shiny object at a camp and can't help but offer.  Either way, what he's doing is bizarre.

There'll probably be a decommitment or two.  It's damn near inevitable.  That means I'm probably overreacting and the final result will be rather less crazy.  Maybe.  The real point is - as much as I like the transfers we've brought in, London is making damn good and sure we'll need plenty more in the future.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

FOV Cavalier of the Year #11/#12

From Old Virginia celebrates its birthday (a bit late this year) in a unique way: by recognizing one of Virginia's student-athletes as the Cavalier of the Year. What are the criteria for the award? You decide; that's the beauty. I nominate the 12 athletes that I think have been the most outstanding during the latest season of UVA athletics, and provide a short summary of their accomplishments. You choose the winner in a poll that goes up after all 12 have had their moment in the spotlight. The full list of nominees is here.

 Over the next few weeks, two athletes at a time will be profiled, and you'll hear about what they've accomplished while representing Mr. Jefferson's University this year. The athletes are presented in a totally random order so as to hopefully not imply any endorsement one way or another. Athletes from all fields are considered; the point is to emphasize that UVA is about excellence across the entire department and doesn't shortchange its so-called non-revenue sports simply because they don't make headlines. Today's athletes: Eric Bird and Jordan Young.

Eric Bird - Men's soccer - Midfield


Team accomplishments:

-- National champions
-- Record 34th straight NCAA tournament appearance

Personal accomplishments:

-- NSCAA 2nd-team all-American
-- 1st-team all-ACC
-- Team leader in goals, points
-- 2nd-round selection in MLS SuperDraft
-- Preseason Herrman Trophy watch list
-- ACC all-academic team (2nd selection)

Maybe we should be rooting extra-hard for men's soccer.  In each of the last six seasons, a UVA team has won a national title in all but one of them.  In two of those years, the Hoos brought home more than one title; both years, men's soccer was the first.

The Hoos' run to - and through - the College Cup was a chip right off the old Tony Bennett block.  Defense, defense, defense, so much so that the College Cup announcers ripped the tactics every chance they got.  Eff 'em.  These tactics, plus a season that was at best, pretty good, left little chance for statistical stardom; Bird's team-leading goal total was just five, the lowest total for a team leader in forever.  Bird also missed most of the NCAA tournament with a groin injury.  This team didn't have much firepower.

Nevertheless, Bird was an all-American anyway, for the second year in a row.  And for the second year in a row, team captain and all-academic student.  And it was just getting here that was hard enough; Bird's first two seasons were effectively wasted by a severe knee injury that saw two torn ligaments and over a year of rehab.  From being held up on crutches to holding up both a team and a trophy, that's one hell of a journey.

Jordan Young - Men's track and field - Throws


Team accomplishments:

-- 2nd place at ACC meet
-- 17th place at NCAA championships
-- 5th place in USTFCCCA program standings

Personal accomplishments:

-- 6th-place finish in discus (1st-team all-American)
-- 7th-place finish in hammer throw (1st-team all-American)
-- 10th-place finish in shot put (2nd-team all-American)
-- Only male athlete to qualify for three individual events at NCAAs
-- ACC meet Field MVP
-- Set school records in hammer throw and weight throw

Quietly, the men's track and field program is, pardon the pun, making strides.  Good things are happening.  This small revolution is being led by guys who chuck heavy things as far as they can.  Jordan Young has some competition in the form of fellow sophomore Filip Mihaljevic.  Both are changing the school record books, and both look like really strong candidates for the Rio Olympics next year; Young for Canada, Mihaljevic for Croatia.

For now, Young is the more accomplished of the two.  He was the only athlete in the country to qualify for three individual events at the NCAAs, and he finished as an all-American in all three.  That combined with his trophy for Field MVP at the ACCs firmly establishes him as the conference's top thrower.  Only a sophomore, it's likely that what Young is doing now, impressive as it is, is only a precursor to much greater things.

Monday, July 27, 2015

FOV Cavalier of the Year #9/#10

From Old Virginia celebrates its birthday (a bit late this year) in a unique way: by recognizing one of Virginia's student-athletes as the Cavalier of the Year. What are the criteria for the award? You decide; that's the beauty. I nominate the 12 athletes that I think have been the most outstanding during the latest season of UVA athletics, and provide a short summary of their accomplishments. You choose the winner in a poll that goes up after all 12 have had their moment in the spotlight. The full list of nominees is here.

 Over the next few weeks, two athletes at a time will be profiled, and you'll hear about what they've accomplished while representing Mr. Jefferson's University this year. The athletes are presented in a totally random order so as to hopefully not imply any endorsement one way or another. Athletes from all fields are considered; the point is to emphasize that UVA is about excellence across the entire department and doesn't shortchange its so-called non-revenue sports simply because they don't make headlines. Today's athletes: Ryan Shane and Courtney Swan.

Ryan Shane - Men's tennis


Team accomplishments:

-- National champions
-- ACC champions
-- ACC consecutive-win streak at 139

Personal accomplishments:

-- Singles national champion
-- ITA all-American (singles and doubles)
-- NCAA all-tournament team as no.1 singles
-- First-team all-ACC
-- ITA National Indoor Championship semifinalist
-- ITA Atlantic Regional singles champion
-- ITA Atlantic Regional doubles champion

Another year, another UVA tennis player completely dominating the national tennis scene.  Two years ago it was Jarmere Jenkins taking home a dump truck of assorted trophies.  Now it's Ryan Shane's turn to stake a very obvious claim as the best player on the best team in the country.

And Shane did something Jenkins, for all his hardware, fell just shy of: won the national singles championship.  This gives Shane two different legs of tennis's triple crown.  Shane is only the second UVA men's tennis player to win the singles title, after the original superstar Somdev Devvarman did it twice.  And quite a few players (most of them from Stanford) have won the singles title after their team won the national championship, but Shane, of course, is the first UVA player to pull off the feat.

Since Devvarman's championships, UVA has brought home six individual tennis titles - in that span, no other school has more than three.  So what Ryan Shane has done might not separate him much from his very illustrious predecessors (this is like praise with faint damnation), except in the unique combination of hardware he has.  But with every Ryan Shane that goes through, UVA separates further and further from the pack as currently the pre-eminent tennis program in the country.

Courtney Swan - Women's lacrosse - Attack


Team accomplishments:

-- NCAA second round

Personal accomplishments:

-- IWCLA 2nd-team all-American
-- IWCLA 1st-team all-region
-- 2nd-team all-ACC
-- ACC leader in assists per game
-- Tewaaraton Award nominee
-- VaSID 1st-team all-state
-- ACC women's lacrosse Scholar-Athlete of the Year
-- Capital One 3rd-team academic all-American
-- UVA's nominee for NCAA Woman of the Year

The women's lacrosse team pulled together quite a few individual accomplishments this year; picking one player out of the bunch isn't easy.  Rachel Vander Kolk was ACC Freshman of the Year.  Casey Bocklet was first-team all-everything.  Courtney Swan, obviously, was no slouch at all on the field, making a bunch of all-something teams herself and catching the eye of the Tewaaraton people, too.  And the ACC's top playmaker, leading the league in assists per game, always counts for something.

But you know how this nomination process goes, and winning something like Scholar-Athlete of the Year - emphasis on Scholar - makes the choice pretty easy after all.  Swan is as much a boss in the classroom as on the field - maybe more, which is saying something.  ACC recognition as your sport's top student is a big deal.  So is the Weaver-James-Corrigan Award, a $5,000 grant towards grad school that the ACC hands out to three athletes per school per year.  (She's going to be an orthopedic doc.)  Swan is a past winner of the NCAA's Elite 89 award as well, which is an automatic handout to the athlete at each national championship with the highest GPA.  And UVA has recognized her scholarhood too, making her the school's choice for NCAA Woman of the Year, which, by the way, her lack of a win should not be construed as "only" a nomination, since the award hasn't been handed out yet.  I try to mean it when I say these nominations are for all-around awesomeness; Courtney Swan makes it easy to back up my words.

Friday, July 24, 2015

FOV Cavalier of the Year #7/#8

From Old Virginia celebrates its birthday (a bit late this year) in a unique way: by recognizing one of Virginia's student-athletes as the Cavalier of the Year. What are the criteria for the award? You decide; that's the beauty. I nominate the 12 athletes that I think have been the most outstanding during the latest season of UVA athletics, and provide a short summary of their accomplishments. You choose the winner in a poll that goes up after all 12 have had their moment in the spotlight. The full list of nominees is here.

 Over the next few weeks, two athletes at a time will be profiled, and you'll hear about what they've accomplished while representing Mr. Jefferson's University this year. The athletes are presented in a totally random order so as to hopefully not imply any endorsement one way or another. Athletes from all fields are considered; the point is to emphasize that UVA is about excellence across the entire department and doesn't shortchange its so-called non-revenue sports simply because they don't make headlines. Today's athletes: Denny McCarthy and Tara Vittese.

Denny McCarthy - Men's golf


Team accomplishments:

-- 18th at NCAA championships
-- Winners of Northern Intercollegiate tournament

Personal accomplishments:

-- Qualified for US Open
-- 29th at NCAA championships
-- Member of winning US team at World Amateur Team Championships
-- Honorable mention NCAA all-American
-- PING 3rd-team all-American
-- VaSID 1st-team all-state

Keeping UVA fans interested in golf events thus far has been Steve Marino, a 2002 graduate.  He'll soon be joined - nay, has already been joined - by the recently graduated Denny McCarthy.  McCarthy certainly did reasonably well this year in his collegiate exploits, helping the Hoos outperform their ranking at the NCAAs and finish 18th.  He also was one of the top golfers at the World Amateur Team Championships and helped the US defend the Eisenhower Trophy there.

Not to be outdone by other UVA luminaries in the extra-curriculars, though, McCarthy went out and qualified for the US Open at Chambers Bay.  And while winning the whole thing would've been worthy of a Carl Spackler narration, McCarthy performed admirably, finishing tied for second-highest on the leaderboard among amateurs (by one stroke).  He ended up in the top one-third of the field and made the cut (which several former majors champions did not do), and if you asked what Lee Westwood, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Colin Montgomerie, Bubba Watson, Lee Janzen, Darren Clarke, and Tiger Woods all have in common, it's finishing behind McCarthy at the Open.

I don't know if that last one's still a thing, actually.  Regardless, an impressive major debut.  McCarthy surely has some PGA Tour wins in his future, and fans of UVA and golf can look forward to following him around the tour.

Tara Vittese - Field hockey - Midfield



Team accomplishments:

-- Top seed in ACC tournament

Personal accomplishments:

-- ACC Freshman of the Year
-- NHFCA 1st-team all-American
-- 1st-team all-ACC
-- VaSID state player of the year, rookie of the year
-- Two-time ACC player of the week

Admittedly, UVA's field hockey team is in a relatively rough stretch right now.  Despite being this year's top seed, they still haven't won an ACC tourney game in who knows how long, and missed out on the NCAA's this year.

That said, the ingredients are right there to come screaming back.  Tara Vittese is the youngest of a whole family of UVA field hockey players, and well on her way to being the best of the bunch.  She's the fifth UVA player to take ACC Freshman of the Year honors (and second in a row, hence the bright future for the team), and everyone saw this coming because she's also the first UVA freshman ever to be named a preseason all-American.  She didn't disappoint, keeping the honor in the postseason too.

Vittese also smashed the freshman assist record with 17 (formerly 11), a total not seen in UVA field hockey since 1999 when Carrie Goodloe had 19.  I'd call her one of the top up-and-coming players in the country, but really she's just one of the top players in the country, period.  Being only a freshman, she has a ton of room for growth, which is scary for the rest of the league.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

FOV Cavalier of the Year #5/#6

From Old Virginia celebrates its birthday (a bit late this year) in a unique way: by recognizing one of Virginia's student-athletes as the Cavalier of the Year. What are the criteria for the award? You decide; that's the beauty. I nominate the 12 athletes that I think have been the most outstanding during the latest season of UVA athletics, and provide a short summary of their accomplishments. You choose the winner in a poll that goes up after all 12 have had their moment in the spotlight. The full list of nominees is here.

 Over the next few weeks, two athletes at a time will be profiled, and you'll hear about what they've accomplished while representing Mr. Jefferson's University this year. The athletes are presented in a totally random order so as to hopefully not imply any endorsement one way or another. Athletes from all fields are considered; the point is to emphasize that UVA is about excellence across the entire department and doesn't shortchange its so-called non-revenue sports simply because they don't make headlines. Today's athletes: Malcolm Brogdon and Quin Blanding.

Malcolm Brogdon - Men's basketball - Guard


Team accomplishments:

-- ACC regular season champion

Personal accomplishments:

-- First-team all-ACC (coaches and media)
-- All-ACC defensive team (coaches and media)
-- ACC Defensive Co-Player of the Year (coaches)
-- USBWA second-team all-American and first-team all-district
-- NABC second-team all-American and first-team all-district
-- VaSID first team all-state
-- WINA Award as UVA's top male athlete
-- Allstate NABC Good Works Team

The basketball team did something this year that no other team has ever done: bring back-to-back ACC regular season titles outside the state of North Carolina.  Virginia basketball is arriving on the map the same way Virginia baseball did about six years ago.

The steady leadership hand of Malcolm Brogdon has a hell of a lot to do with it.  Obviously.  Brogdon is a perfect fit for Tony Bennett's style of ball: a level-headed demeanor that belies a bulldog mentality.  For a guard, he's freakish big and strong, and for a freakish big and strong guard, he's incredibly difficult to shake when defending on the ball.  Aided, I'm sure, by his game-sealing steal against Wake Forest, Brogdon hauled down defensive accolades as quickly as he hauled down regular ones.  The coaches and media all agreed, he was one of the top five players in the ACC and top ten in the country, and the ACC coaches made him DPOY along with Syracuse's excellent big man Rakeem Christmas.

That's Tonyball, alright.  Here's another Tony Bennett staple, this from the official site brag articles:

"During his four years at Virginia, Brogdon has volunteered as a reader and mentor to fifth grade students at Broadus Elementary School in Charlottesville and served as a mentor at the Charlottesville Boys and Girls Club. Brogdon, who is a dual-degree student in the Accelerated Bachelor/MPP Program in the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at UVa, has made two separate mission trips to South Africa and Malawi, and Ghana. In addition, Brogdon served as a mentor in both the W.E.B. DuBois Society and Norcross Elementary school in Georgia, and was also a counselor at the East Lake YMCA summer camp in his hometown of Atlanta."

That's how you get on the Good Works team, which is populated by only five D-I players out of approximately four thousand.  Who else combines being one of the top ten players in the country with being one of the top five awesome basketball people in the country?  Nobody, obviously.  That kind of rare combination is why being a UVA fan is so much fun these days.

Quin Blanding - Football - Free safety


Team accomplishments:

-- Actually won some games

Personal accomplishments:

-- Second-team all-ACC (coaches and media)
-- ACC Defensive Freshman of the Year (coaches and media)
-- Scout.com National Defensive Freshman of the Year
-- FWAA, ESPN, Scout, and 247Sports freshman all-American
-- Team tackles and interceptions leader

To put it a bit mildly, not everything in the Mike London era has gone as planned.  Most of his big-time recruits have gotten slow starts before rounding into form, or simply not panned out at all.  Quin Blanding is the very explosive exception to the rule.

Blanding was a superstar recruit, one of (if not the) top high school safeties in the country.  But free safety is a tough place for a freshman - it's the last line of defense and requires split second decisions that often mean touchdowns if you guess wrong.  Hardly mattered: Blanding blew past even the most unreasonable expectations.

Wearing #3 - a tall order, as the number is closely associated with a beloved near-legend in Anthony Poindexter - Blanding stood out even on a defense loaded with talent.  Most of the time when a safety leads the team in tackles, that's a bad sign, but the defense in front of Blanding was loaded with extremely smart veterans and some physical freaks, and was legitimately good in nearly all aspects.  And still the tackles competition wasn't even close, as Blanding finished 15 ahead of senior safety Anthony Harris.

The people who notice these things, noticed.  Blanding was a runaway choice as FDPOY, as the only freshman to make any kind of all-ACC team, 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, and 48 votes ahead of the next-highest freshman in the voting.  He was on every freshman all-America team you can think of.  And of course (though I shouldn't mention it because technically these are 2015-16 accomplishments) he's on every award watch list and preseason all-whatever team in the football universe.  Singlehandedly bringing cachet and respectability to the football program is a pretty titanic accomplishment.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

FOV Cavalier of the Year #3/#4

From Old Virginia celebrates its birthday (a bit late this year) in a unique way: by recognizing one of Virginia's student-athletes as the Cavalier of the Year. What are the criteria for the award? You decide; that's the beauty. I nominate the 12 athletes that I think have been the most outstanding during the latest season of UVA athletics, and provide a short summary of their accomplishments. You choose the winner in a poll that goes up after all 12 have had their moment in the spotlight. The full list of nominees is here.

 Over the next few weeks, two athletes at a time will be profiled, and you'll hear about what they've accomplished while representing Mr. Jefferson's University this year. The athletes are presented in a totally random order so as to hopefully not imply any endorsement one way or another. Athletes from all fields are considered; the point is to emphasize that UVA is about excellence across the entire department and doesn't shortchange its so-called non-revenue sports simply because they don't make headlines. Today's athletes: Morgan Brian and Leah Smith.

Morgan Brian - Women's soccer - Midfielder


Team accomplishments:

-- College Cup runner-up

Personal accomplishments:

-- World Cup winner with Team USA
-- MAC Herrmann Trophy winner (2nd award)
-- Mary Garber Award winner as ACC's top female athlete
-- Top Drawer Soccer women's Player of the Year (2nd award)
-- US Soccer Young Female Athlete of the Year
-- NSCAA first team all-American (3rd award)
-- 1st overall selection in NWSL draft
-- VaSID State Player of the Year (2nd award)
-- IMP Award for UVA female athlete of the year
-- ACC all-academic women's soccer team (3rd award)

Paige Selenski remains the only four-time nominee for a Cavalier of the Year award, but Morgan Brian would've easily done the same if she'd played enough during her sophomore season.  Alas, she missed half the NCAA season because she was busy winning gold for the national U-20 team at the U-20 World Cup.

This year her national team obligations didn't get too much in the way of her schoolwork.  As you might guess from the completely absurd list of accolades for Best at Everything, above.  She's the fourth repeat winner of the MAC Herrmann Trophy (soccer's Heisman) and only the second repeat winner of the Top Drawer Soccer thing.  Oh, and a World Cup, let's just casually throw that out there.  And how many athletes with trophy piles thirty feet high also win honors for their work in the classroom?

Her freshman year, she was also co-winner of this blog's Cavalier of the Year award thanks to a Facebook campaign (I also gave it to Mike Scott as the runaway choice of people who didn't click through from Facebook), and in her FOVCOY profile I wrote: "She's the first UVA women's soccer player to win the national FOY award, and it's pretty clear UVA has itself a bright rising star for a few years to come."  The way Brian has gone the past few years, I think it's one of my better predictions.  The Facebook campaigners might have been a little ahead of themselves, handing Brian an FOVCOY win in her "least deserving" year, because after a four year career and all that stuff she's won, she's become very much the pride of UVA in ways that no other recent athlete can really say.  I don't really campaign - much - for a winner of this award, but it's my un-humble opinion that Morgan Brian is UVA's top athlete in the FOV era - and for who knows how much before that?

Leah Smith - Women's swimming - Freestyle


Team accomplishments:

-- 5th place at NCAA championships
-- 8th straight ACC title

Personal accomplishments:

-- National champion in 500-yard and 1,650-yard freestyle
-- National 7th place and all-American in 200-yard freestyle
-- ACC champion in 1,650, 500, and 200 freestyle and 800-yard free relay
-- Undefeated all year in 500, 1,000, and 1,650-yard freestyles
-- NCAA, ACC, UVA record holder in 500-yard freestyle
-- ACC and UVA record holder in 1,650 freestyle and 800 free relay
-- World University Games gold medalist in 400-meter freestyle and 800-meter free relay
-- All-ACC academic team

First of all, do you notice a pattern here?  So far we've covered several athletes who are literally - by some measures or by all of them - the greatest to play their sport at UVA, and they've been academic honorees too.

Leah Smith is no different.  Only a sophomore, she's already not only one of UVA's best-ever swimmers, but quite literally the greatest female collegiate swimmer ever, at least where the 500-yard freestyle is concerned.  That's the title that comes with the record, after all.  She's also rewriting ACC record books with a fury.  The swimming program is going through a rough patch on the men's side, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the women; they just came off their best-ever season with a fifth-place finish nationally and Leah Smith leading the way.

This summer she and a few teammates went to the World University Games and came back with more gold-colored hardware, and she's nowhere near done as her next stop is the World Championships in Russia.  UVA has had some outstanding swimmers - Lauren Perdue comes immediately to mind - but it sure looks like Leah Smith will stand head and shoulders above the crowd when she's done.

Friday, July 10, 2015

FOV Cavalier of the Year #1/#2

From Old Virginia celebrates its birthday (a bit late this year) in a unique way: by recognizing one of Virginia's student-athletes as the Cavalier of the Year. What are the criteria for the award? You decide; that's the beauty. I nominate the 12 athletes that I think have been the most outstanding during the latest season of UVA athletics, and provide a short summary of their accomplishments. You choose the winner in a poll that goes up after all 12 have had their moment in the spotlight. The full list of nominees is here.

 Over the next few weeks, two athletes at a time will be profiled, and you'll hear about what they've accomplished while representing Mr. Jefferson's University this year. The athletes are presented in a totally random order so as to hopefully not imply any endorsement one way or another. Athletes from all fields are considered; the point is to emphasize that UVA is about excellence across the entire department and doesn't shortchange its so-called non-revenue sports simply because they don't make headlines. Today's athletes: Josh Sborz and Nick Sulzer.

Josh Sborz - Baseball - Pitcher


Team accomplishments:

-- National champions

Personal accomplishments:

-- College World Series Most Outstanding Player
-- Second-team all-ACC
-- ACC saves leader (tied)
-- NCBWA Stopper of the Year watch list
-- 74th overall pick in MLB draft

After a couple cracks at it that fell a bit short, UVA won a College World Series this year - the 23rd national title won by the school and probably the highest-profile of the bunch.  It wasn't easy (not that it ever is, but the road was a very unlikely one) and there's no way it happens without Josh Sborz.

Sborz's MOP title really only covers the games played in Omaha, but it might as well have been for the whole tournament.  When the regular season ended, his stat line read 12 saves, ERA 2.49, and a 2-2 record.  Sborz opened the postseason by shutting out Georgia Tech in a seven-inning complete game that ended by mercy rule.  He then pitched in every game in the Lake Elsinore regional, once in the super-regional, and in four of seven games in Omaha.  That's a total of nine postseason games, and Sborz:

- earned a win or a save in all but one of them
- didn't allow a single earned run (and only one unearned one)
- allowed 7 hits, walked 7, struck out 24, in 26 innings, for an ERA of 0.00 and a WHIP of 0.54.

At the end of it all, the new stat line is 15 saves, ERA of 1.60, and a 7-2 record.

Brandon Waddell easily had the gutsiest performances in the tournament.  Nathan Kirby, the best story.  But I can't think of a more dominant postseason anyone has had in a UVA baseball uniform than this one.  Sborz flipped easily from the bullpen to a starter's role and back, and his presence as a nigh-unhittable super-reliever is probably the single biggest reason (out of a huge host of very big reasons) that UVA brought a trophy home from Omaha.

Nick Sulzer - Wrestling - 165 lbs.


Team accomplishments:

-- ACC champions
-- 19th place at NCAA nationals

Personal accomplishments:

-- ACC champion at 165 lbs
-- NCAA 5th place at 165 lbs
-- Third straight all-American status
-- Finished career with second-most wins (122) in program history
-- Finished career with most NCAA wins (15) and NCAA championship bouts (24) in program history
-- One-time ACC Wrestler of the Week
-- Academic all-ACC wrestling team

Sulzer checks in with his second COY nomination, having been passed the mantle from Chris Henrich as the program's marquee wrestler.  Ten years ago that would've been no real accomplishment.  UVA is now a national program, having finished in the top 25 at the NCAAs in most recent years and adding a couple ACC championships to the total.  This year's win wasn't even close.  UVA didn't go in as the favorite or even second-favorite, but the eventual margin of victory was more than comfortable.

Nick Sulzer was a senior this year, so his accomplishments include some pretty impressive final career marks.  He's a two-time ACC champion and three-time all-American, and set UVA records for number of wins and total bouts at the NCAA championships as well.  This season he had a sparkling 32-4 record with 18 of the wins on major decisions.  That wrapped up a career of 122 total wins, second only to Henrich.  And, Sulzer has multiple entries not only on the lists of top wrestling accolades, but academic accolades too.  Sulzer's main accomplishment, though, just might be ensuring the UVA wrestling program has staying power as a national player.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

2014-2015 Cavalier of the Year nominations

Ha.  You were afraid it wouldn't happen this year.  UVA put three (!!!) national championship trophies in the case this year - an unprecedented number, which led to winning the men's Capital One Cup, and therefore certainly the best-ever season in UVA sports.  Now we just have to put the finishing touches on it.  We just had to wait until the baseball team finished -  annoying, I know, but what ya gonna do?  This way, we have a few things going on during the summer we can count, too.

You know how this goes, but in case you forgot: I nominate 12 athletes, you pick the winner after reading the capsules.  I get to interpret the results how I like, which means that if I think it's close enough or if there's reason to do so, I might announce co-winners.

First, a list of previous winners:

2009: Danny Hultzen (baseball)
2010: Diego Restrepo (men's soccer)
2011: Danny Hultzen (baseball)
2012: Mike Scott (men's hoops) / Morgan Brian (women's soccer)
2013: Jarmere Jenkins (men's tennis)
2014: Joe Harris (men's hoops)

I also like to highlight Paige Selenski, thus far the only four-year nominee.  Going into the seventh year of the award, I continue to be awfully pleased that non-rev sports fare so well in the voting.  The whole point of this, after all, is to put them on the same pedestal as the glamor sports.

Now, the unveiling of this year's list:

Eric Bird - Men's soccer
Quin Blanding - Football
Morgan Brian - Women's soccer
Malcolm Brogdon - Men's basketball
Denny McCarthy - Men's golf
Josh Sborz - Baseball
Ryan Shane - Men's tennis
Leah Smith - Women's swimming
Nick Sulzer - Wrestling
Courtney Swan - Women's lacrosse
Tara Vittese - Field hockey
Jordan Young - Men's track and field

I feel like I say this every year, cause that's kind of the nature of the beast, but this is one hell of a field of nominees.  There's three team national champions plus an individual national champion, a World Cup winner and Herrmann Trophy winner, a tourney Most Outstanding Player, a gold medalist, a couple program record-setters, and I think literally all but one of them is some kind of all-American.  I'll be profiling them two at a time in the coming days.  Good luck figuring this one out.

Friday, June 26, 2015

kirby's dream land

It's hard to capture in words what just happened, for the simple reason that it's so easy to see what just happened.  It's not just a national championship.  It never is, I suppose.  By definition, national championships are stories to tell.

It's just, it's hard to think of a time the stories flowed so freely and easily.  There was the rematch.  The hometown boy and his statue.  The program barely a decade from being cut.  The tribute to a fallen police officer.  The ACC's championship drought.  The injuries.  The depth and lack thereof.  The multitude of clutch hits, pitches, and performances.  No, a national championship really is never just a collection of wins, but this one, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a storyline.  This thing means so many different things, it'd take an extra volume or two to capture it all.

I say we start with the last two innings, and I have the only vote.  Something extraordinary had just happened, which really doesn't narrow it down but still.  Brandon Waddell - Big Game Brandon, a moniker not even a month old - told Karl Kuhn he was done.  Even though UVA's pitchers are instructed to do that if they feel the need, it has to go against every competitive fiber in a player's body.  With Waddell understandably out of gas, Nathan Kirby took the hill.

Let's go back a bit.  As a UVA commit out of high school, Kirby was already considered nigh-unsignable by MLB clubs, but he famously went the extra mile by not even submitting to the MLB drug testing and medical requirements, making himself ineligible for selection.  A very rare step.  That recruiting class had some outstanding pitchers, but Kirby was the headliner.

And then he stunk.  A lot.  Expected to compete for a weekend role, Kirby only started two games and pitched mostly in relief.  Badly.  His fastball had less movement than a roadkill skunk.  His breaking stuff didn't get over the plate enough and hitters ignored it, waiting for the nice easy batting practice fastballs.  Waddell started the first game of the season, Josh Sborz immediately became an elite reliever, even Trey Oest - who left after that season - had a larger role.  Kirby's sophomore season was a night-and-day difference.  He was every bit the ace he was supposed to be.  Dominant.  Pitched great in the postseason, too - an eight-inning, one-hit, nine-K gem against Arkansas; a seven-inning, one-hit effort against Ole Miss.

It all came crashing down against Vanderbilt, though, in one absolute nuclear disaster of a third inning in which he walked five and ultimately got charged with eight runs.  And because of how things go, that was the lasting memory, even into a junior season that saw his ace self return, right up until the lat injury.

He wasn't even that good upon his return.  Rusty.  It was plain to see his command was less than sparkling.  He ended up tagged with the loss, though the game wasn't really over until well past his removal.  Getting the ball a few days later, he was walking to a mound where he'd never pitched well, to face hitters who had destroyed him when they saw him last.  And all he was being asked to do was close out a national championship.

Five strikeouts and a grounder later, everyone forgot all of that.  And if you ask me, that's the power of a trophy.  Kirby's story, to me, is as good as any in the tournament, but it didn't get a whole lot of attention, because the instant it became a story, UVA won, you know, a frickin' national championship.  But Nathan Kirby is too good of a pitcher and there was no way in hell he deserved to be remembered for the downsides of his career.

****************************************

I did say it'd take an extra volume or two.  Of the various teams I consider myself invested in, pro and college, I've watched them win, by my count, anywhere from 9 to 12 national titles, depending on how early in my life you let me start counting.  This one is either my first or second favorite; it's not fair to judge while I'm still riding high, but it's at least up there.  So, yeah, this is a weekend's worth of stuff right here.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

baseball is so awesome

Here's a question:

Name an outfit that ever deserved a championship more.

(hint: don't even try)